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REVIEW: ‘Aftersun’ is a poignant meditation on the memories we cling to

By Matthew Escosia Published Aug 22, 2023 8:30 am

Warning: This review contains spoilers from Aftersun.

Aftersun opens with video footage of young Sophie (Frankie Corio) filming her father (Paul Mescal) during a holiday trip in Turkey. The two are settled in a hotel room, but when she tries to spark a conversation with him, the father just smiles in reply. 

The video pauses, and we later see the reflection of a woman watching it on television from afar. It’s Sophie, now an adult, as the spectator who hesitates to resume the clip after something seemingly bothers her. 

Aftersun never explicitly shared what troubled Sophie, nor the reason behind her father being distant during that trip. The movie instead ponders on the small details to make sense of what really happened—from the perspective of a daughter in her older years, recollecting her last days with her parent and reflecting on things she did not understand until later. 

Frankie Corio as Sophie (left) and Paul Mescal (right) as Sophie's father in Aftersun 

This debut feature film from writer-director Charlotte Wells was lifted from her personal experiences with her father, who passed away at an early age. While it's semi-autobiographical, Aftersun is a poignant meditation on the memories we cling to, regardless of whether it’s a blurred memory we try to remember or a photo/video file treasured somewhere. 

The applauding merit of the film stems from the generosity of Wells to turn her personal tale into something universal, one that the audience can contribute to their individual narratives. In an interview with AnOther Magazine, Wells noted how the personal spaces of Aftersun create ambiguities for people to fill “with their own experiences, their own reference points that they enter the cinema with.” 

On the heels of his memorable performances in Normal People and The Lost Daughter, Mescal gets even more remarkable in Aftersun as Sophie’s father Calum. It’s refreshing to see an actor as charismatic as Mescal shine in quieter, restrained moments—and he does so without doing much. No surprise, the Academy nominated him as Best Actor for this film at the 2023 Oscars. 

Corio as young Sophie was equally impressive as well, considering Aftersun was her first-ever acting role in a movie. There’s a surprising amount of heart, longingness, and maturity in her performance that made her and Mescal a great tandem throughout. 

Sophie and her father share a tender moment in the film.

Aftersun may not be an easy watch for all, but it's one that will warm the heart of anyone who watches it. In one of its most noteworthy scenes, Wells uses jukebox songs from the ‘80s and ‘90s to evoke a longing for a father-daughter connection. Near the end of the film, during the last evening of their holiday trip, Calum and Sophie engage in a sweet dance to the tune of Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure. The scene brings a new meaning to the rock track’s lyrics as an anthem for revolt against capitalism into an affecting reminder of love’s transcendental nature (“Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves”). Or maybe, Wells is just telling the viewers about their last moments together (“This is our last dance”).  

Much like Wells pouring her own perspectives, there is a healthy release for viewers during and post-Aftersun that makes it special. The film premiered last 2022 at the Cannes Film Festival and has since continued to leave a mark on many moviegoers, as seen in how it was recognized as one of the best films of that year by the National Board of Review as well as the British Academy Film and TV Awards this year. True enough, it’s a debut from a budding filmmaker worth the accolades and discussion, leaving the audience with their eyes set on what she’s settling on next. 

Aftersun opens in select Ayala Malls cinemas from Aug. 23 to 29. Watch the trailer below.